CALIFORNIA, Mo. — When California takes the field tonight against Southern Boone, the Pintos will have revenge on their minds.
After California edged Southern Boone in the regular season last year, the Eagles returned the favor in the first round of districts with a 48-21 win on the Pintos' home turf.
For coach Marty Albertson and his 2-4 California team, the sting of last year's postseason defeat should provide all the motivation necessary.
"I think most of the kids remember it from last year," Albertson said. "It doesn't matter who we're playing, we just need to go out and play our best game and get some more wins so we can position ourselves for districts."
The Pintos got a taste of defending a balanced offense for the first time last week in their 6-0 win in Hallsville. Tonight provides a similar test for California, albeit against much stiffer competition.
Southern Boone (4-2) is led by quarterback Spencer Taggart, who is one of the most prolific passers the Pintos will see all year, having already thrown for more than a 1,000 yards this season.
Taggart's top target is Clay Jeffery, who had 73 receiving yards and two TDs last week in the Eagles' 42-13 loss to Blair Oaks.
Though California is among the Tri-County Conference leaders in scoring defense, giving up just 9.0 points per game in league play, the Pintos will make it prudent to keep Taggart and the Eagles offense on the sidelines.
"The strategy is to control the football and to give your defense some rest," Albertson said. "We haven't been very good at that the last couple games. It's something we need to be better at these last three games."
California will have the heart of its defense at full strength for the first time since Week 1 as senior linebackers Gunner Baquet and Sam Kirby will finally both be back on the field at the same time.
Baquet missed nearly a month with a broken finger before returning in earnest against Hallsville. Kirby, however, missed the Pintos' win against the Indians with a concussion.
Both will anchor the middle of California's linebacking core while Kyle Riley and Jacob Wolken will remain on the outside.
While California's defense was undoubtedly the biggest factor in the team's shutout win against Hallsville, the Pintos also won the special teams battle with the Indians.
Punter Liam Schatzer is averaging 37.0 net yards per attempt and will be counted on to keep the Pintos ahead in the field position battle tonight.
On the flip side, California's field goal kicking game is currently in flux. Senior kicker Jose Magana will miss his third straight game tonight.
"We're hampered quite a bit without a kicker," Albertson said. "We hope he can get back before the season is over."
Having scored one touchdown in each of their past two games, the Pintos are 1-for-2 in two-point conversions in that span. If tonight's game is close, this will be something to keep an eye on for California.
For California, tonight will officially commence the meat of its schedule. In a string of games against Southern Boone, Blair Oaks and School of the Osage, the combined records of the Pintos' final three regular-season opponents add up to a staggering 22-2.
Albertson and the Pintos have known all year this buzz saw would be coming. All they can do is do what they've done all season — keep battling.
"Each game is going to get a little tougher as we go through the last three here," Albertson said. "We have to put our best games together. You hope that, this time of the year, you can do that to get ready for district play.
"The whole idea is to try to do the things we've been doing all year, but just do them a little better."
Both teams are 2-2 in the Tri-County. Kickoff is at 7 p.m. in Ashland.
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